Thursday, February 16, 2012
Perhaps the most important consequence of the FAA funding bill was the certainty and stability it provided the FAA, airlines and airports in their efforts to transition from the current radar-based air traffic control system to the forthcoming GPS-based system known as NextGen. We will discuss the funding bill's impact on NextGen in greater detail tomorrow, but first we felt the need to call attention to a separate development from earlier this week of nearly equal importance. On Tuesday, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced it was revoking the conditional authority it had granted the company LightSquared in January 2011 to operate a wireless broadband network over the nation's airwaves. See Edward Wyatt, F.C.C. Bars the Use of Airwaves for a Broadband Plan, N.Y. Times, Feb. 14, 2012 (available here). LightSquared signals were found to interfere with GPS signals used by private companies, the military and the aviation industry. The potential interference caused by LightSquared technology posed major problems for the aviation industry as many current instruments using GPS would have needed to be replaced. Worse, the changes that would have been required before implementing the NextGen system would likely have significantly delayed the project and substantially increased its cost. See Bob Brewin, Leaked FAA Report Adds Fuel to Debate Over LightSquared Broadband Network, Nextgov, July 27, 2011 (available here). While this turn of events was not entirely fair to LightSquared, as fault appears to lie with the design of the affected GPS technology and not LightSquared's network, the FCC understandably concluded that the burden the LightSquared network would impose on various government and private sectors was too great to allow the company to proceed.